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Know Your Customer.
Perhaps the most essential element of marketing and branding is to know your customer. Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to understand what their buyers like and dislike, what motivates them to purchase or to turn away, what makes them happy, and what makes them unhappy.
And yet, in a society that cherishes individuality, it's possible that every customer a company has could feel differently about what they're buying. And that makes it really hard to know your customer and anticipate desires, manage experiences, and fulfill expectations.
Take this blog, for example. Last week I wrote a post that compared where people in Miami get their mangos to how many friends they have. My point was that because mango trees are so productive, someone who needs to buy mangos in a Miami grocery store must not have many strong relationships. Because of this, a therapist who specialized in loneliness and was interested in increasing their business could hand out business cards in the produce department.
Of course, this was a metaphor. The idea behind the mango story was that marketers should look for ways to find their customers where they're at and reach out to them with offers that they would respond to positively.
It turns out that my mango idea isn't even that novel. One reader wrote that my idea “reminded him of Paul Newman's portrayal of a down-and-out lawyer in ‘The Verdict,' handing out his business cards to elderly, grief-stricken widows at funeral homes.”
At least five readers thought the idea was hilarious, writing comments such as, “Great analogy, also made me laugh!” “I love the opening. Cracked me up!!” and “It made me giggle.”
A few thought it was good business advice. Your blog was “especially fun and universally applicable,” and “Finally I have an easy way to explain customer targeting to my marketing people.”
But before you applaud my ability to know your customer, not everyone was on board with the concept.
“…I feel compelled to weigh in for all the lonely people that may read your blog. Loneliness isn't just a function of not having friends; it's a disconnect from them. So the person buying mangoes may have friends; they just aren't asking them for mangoes or running into them to be offered mangos.”
Ouch – yeah, that makes sense too.
Know Your Customer.
Of course, I had no intention of hurting or insulting anyone with my post; I was simply trying to find a relevant and amusing way to talk about innovative ways to find clients. At the same time, I always like to interject a little personality into my blogs to help build relationships. So talking about Miami's glut of mangoes would make sense to Miamians, while also giving a little insight into what it's like to live in the 305 to people who may not be familiar with the phrase, “It's SO Miami.”
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The fact that I didn't mean to be insensitive does not mean I wasn't insensitive.
Perhaps that's what happened when Hobby Lobby and Chick-Fil-A were boycotted because they weren't willing to extend spousal benefits to the same-sex partners of their LGBTQ+ employees.
Bud Light's response, “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people” (there's that “intended” word again) only made the problem worse. Many of Mulvaney's 13 million followers were outraged by the beer brand's lack of support. In response, the non-profit LGBTQ+ rights organization, Human Rights Campaign, notified Anheuser-Busch that its designation of “Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality” would be removed. And Bud's sales have dropped precipitously.
In a polarized world where everyone might be offended by anything, anything might offend everyone. Knowing this, how do marketers and communicators who want to reach vast audiences of non-homogeneous consumers remain true to their values and yet please their customers?
I don't know. I do know that in the current climate, it appears you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
Oops, I just said, “damn.” Sorry.